Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And there LEED Goes....

I sometimes think I am the anti-LEED person with my constant harping about the issues surrounding LEED. But in reality I am a great advocate I am just against the "certifying" and "designating levels" of a buildings "greeness"

As I have said before there are some issues I have with regards to the program:
* No guarantee about performance
* No idemnification for Verifiers
* Cost
* Lack of concern for Indoor Air Quality for Occupants
* Monopoly
* Expense to become a LEED AP and the lack of criteria other than testing

Then today I found an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about a Developer forgoing LEED Certification as it adds to the cost of construction to the point it takes away from the features and options they can add to the building.

And its why I don't do LEED certs. The insurance costs to my business would raise, I can follow and establish the standards they are available and not trademarked or unique in any green build program and the time constraints involved would simply dominate my entire professional life. Its not affordable for me either. But it doesn't mean I don't know or keep apprised of current building science - LEED related or not

LEED certification boosts cost of going green

By Rachel Tobin
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It ain’t easy being green. At least, not certifiably.

Just ask Connie Engel, a partner at Childress Klein, which manages and leases most of Atlanta Galleria, an 86-acre office park in Cobb County with six high-rise buildings.

The firm is not seeking certification through the U.S. Green Building Council to prove the buildings are LEED -- the acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

“We don’t want to pay the cost,” Engel said, or pass it on to tenants during this economic climate. But, she said, that doesn't mean they don't believe in conservation.

“We’ve been doing it for years: recycling, water conservation, all kinds of things generally considered green,” Engel said.

While proponents of LEED certification say it pays off in the long run in operating efficiencies, Engel voices a concern echoed by others in Atlanta’s real estate community who've balked at the hefty price tag of applying -- up to $27,500 per building.

That is the amount the council's nonmembers pay to apply for certification of buildings larger than half a million square feet. Members pay less, and smaller buildings are cheaper to certify, but that’s just for the paperwork. The fees don’t include the physical improvements needed to make a building green-compliant, nor consultant fees for help with the process.

“Just to submit the paperwork is $14,000,” Engel said of one project she is working on. “That doesn’t seem right to us. We have to put any extra dollars that we have toward keeping or getting tenants.”

Ashley Katz, communications manager at the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council, said she has heard the concerns. “Cost is always something people bring up.”

LEED certification, which is about 10 years old, is still evolving, she said. She believes professional fees will continue to come down -- but, regardless, the cost pays off.

Building owners typically spend 1 to 2 percent more for a new building to meet LEED standards, but will get a 20 percent higher return on investment over the life of a building, she said.

Jack Rector, a LEED-certified engineer at Colliers International in Atlanta, said the payoff is that green buildings are cheaper to operate over time.

“LEED saves you about 35 percent in water costs and 15 percent in power costs. The break-even point is three to five years, so it does mount up very quickly,” Rector said.

Steve Martin, managing principal with SDM Partners, agreed, saying the certification is like “having a Polo logo on your shirt.” It’s an automatic selling tool when dealing with some government agencies and corporations that require LEED certification for their real estate deals.

In Atlanta, that claim bears out in the list of 101 buildings registered as LEED in the council’s database.

They include corporate, governmental and nonprofit entities such as the Atlanta Ballet, Atlanta Community Food Bank, the city of Atlanta’s new public safety offices, Emory University, Invesco, Alston & Bird, Skanska, Herman Miller, the Weather Channel and the new World of Coca-Cola.

But many real estate professionals told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that instead of paying the certification fees, they make green improvements to buildings, then let their tenants know.

Robert Patterson, who has been heading up the renovations at 200 Peachtree, the former Macy’s building downtown, decided not to seek certification.

“We are confident we would receive LEED certification based on the fact that we are a historical renovation, near transit, properly handled our demolition materials, chose substantial local content and installed new resource efficient systems," he said.

"However, LEED certification is expensive and the payments go to consultants and auditors as opposed to investments that save energy. We are now focused on how we operate the building to recycle materials, recycle oil into bio-diesel, and are even looking for how we can compost food waste.”

SDM’s Martin just bought Suwanee Gateway, a vacant five-story office building in Gwinnett, for $7.7 million. It was built to LEED silver standards -- the second lowest level -- but is not yet certified. While the previous owners already spent about $160,000 on the paperwork, he will have to spend another estimated $50,000 to $75,000 to finish it.

“Why can’t the design architects do this stuff and say, ‘Yes, it’s built to LEED standards?’” Martin asked.

Since 2000, more than 36,000 projects have been registered as LEED-certified, Katz said, and 12,000 projects were registered this year, the highest annual rate so far.

Chris Brown, senior vice president for Georgia operations with Duke Realty, said his firm is “absolutely pursuing LEED certification. Any building we build going forward will have some level of certification.”

The cost to apply for certification on a $10 million project becomes “immaterial,” he added.

Still, not all real estate firms believe certification is necessary to get the benefits of "being green."

Clint Howell, a senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, manages and leases Sanctuary Park, a 150-acre office park with nine buildings in Alpharetta.

Two of the newest buildings are nearly identically, but one is LEED-certified and the other isn’t. The latter recently was leased to Coca-Cola Co., which will move a call center there from Dunwoody. Not having the certification didn't affect that deal, he said, and a Coke spokeswoman, Susan Stribling, agreed: "While this building is not LEED-certified, it offers many environmentally friendly features."

Walter Brown, senior vice president of development and sustainability for Green Street Properties, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Jamestown, said not all projects can be made green easily, including larger, older buildings with multiple heating and cooling systems pieced together, like Chelsea Market in New York.

So his company is developing a seal called “JT Green.” Prospective or existing tenants will be able to click on it to view a project's sustainable elements.

He called it a more “feasible” way to address the green issue.

And Engel has a “Galleria Green” checklist with how those buildings meet green standards.

Many of them are Energy Star compliant -- a designation that also is paperwork intensive but doesn’t require a hefty application fee, she said.

For now, that’s good enough for her.

So far, she said, she’s not aware of any tenants that have walked away from her buildings because they weren’t LEED-certified.

Friday, November 26, 2010

LEED Good for the Building

A recent study by Environment and Human Health, Inc., has brought to task the issue that while LEED is good for building and energy efficiency its not so good for the people.

Who are the EHHA? It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harms through research, education and the promotion of sound public policy. Environment and Human Health, Inc. is made up of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts committed to the reduction of environmental health risks to individuals.

LEED is under fire lately and well I have had issues with it for quite some time. One their entire monopoly on certification of buildings making it mandatory for individuals to possess and maintain LEED AP standings at significant costs while not indemnifying us should the process go wrong if litigation results from building failure. Its an expensive time consuming process for me and the kinds of clients I work with and tax credits for residential don't hinge (thankfully) on third part certifications so I am fortunate in that respect. That said the residential market is tough and if I am to sustain my business I will have to move out of it in the future and the LEED AP standing will become a necessity I can no longer avoid.

But as one who has always said look to the big picture and see what it is to accomplish I have to say that well its like the game when you have your hands together in prayer and you go "here is the church here is the steeple open the door and see all the people." Without people you have no buildings or at least anyone in them so what is the purpose. Save the environment and save the people.

LEED Standards Are Being Adopted into Many Laws

Green Building Council standards are being incorporated into federal, state and local laws through legislation, executive orders, resolutions, policies, loan-granting criteria and tax credits. As demonstrated in this report, LEED standards are clearly insufficient to protect human health, yet they are being adopted by many levels of government as law. Thus the Green Building Council, a trade association for the building industry, is effectively structuring the regulations. The number of jurisdictions adopting these standards as law is growing, which will make them difficult if not impossible to change, unless federal law and regulation supersede the “green” standards with health-protective regulations.

No Federal Definition or Regulation of Green Building Standards

There is no federal definition of “green building standards” analogous to federal “organic food standards” or drinking water standards. Given regulatory neglect, many trade organizations have worked to create their own certification programs, hoping to capture growing demand for environmentally friendly and heath-protective buildings.

Energy Efficiency Given Priority Over Health

The LEED credit system is heavily weighted to encourage energy-efficient building performance. Nearly four times as many credits are awarded as energy conservation technologies and designs (35 possible credits) as for protection of indoor environmental quality from hazardous chemicals (8 possible credits).

Green Building Council Board Has Little Expertise in Environmental Health

Directors of the LEED Program are predominantly engineers, architects, developers, real estate executives, chemical industry officials and building product manufacturers. One medical doctor representing Physicians for Social Responsibility was recently appointed to sit on the board, which has 25 directors.

False Impression of Healthy Buildings

The Green Building Council’s award of “platinum,” “gold”, and “silver” status conveys the false impression of a healthy and safe building environment, even when well-recognized hazardous chemicals exist in building products.

Time Spent Indoors

Americans today are spending more than 90 percent of their time indoors. The EPA spends the majority of its resources working to manage outdoor threats to environmental quality and human health.

Tighter Buildings Increase Human Exposure

Energy conservation efforts have made buildings tighter, often reducing air exchange between the indoors and outdoors. Since outdoor air is often cleaner than indoor air, the reduction of outdoor-indoor exchange tends to concentrate particles, gases and other chemicals that can lead to more intense human exposures than would be experienced in better-ventilated environments.

However, the LEED program has been effective in encouraging more efficient heating and ventilation techniques, such as solar panels, geothermal wells, window placement and building orientation.

Toxic Chemicals in Built Environments

Tens of thousands of different building materials and products are now sold in global markets. Many of these products contain chemicals recognized by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, the CDC, or the World Health Organization to be hazardous.

These products include pesticides, chemical components of plastics, flame retardants, metals, solvents, adhesives and stain-resistant applications.

Some are carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone mimics, reproductive toxins, developmental toxins, or chemicals that either stimulate or suppress the immune system.

Chemicals in Buildings Are Often Found in Human Tissues

The CDC began testing human tissues to determine the presence of some chemical ingredients of building materials. Most individuals whose tissues were tested carried dozens of these chemicals in their hair, blood or urine. Children often carry higher concentrations than adults. Chemicals released by building materials to indoor environments may be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin.

No Level of LEED Certification Assures Health Protection

It is possible for new construction to be certified at the “platinum” level with no credits awarded for air quality assurance in the category “indoor environmental quality.”

LEED Neglects Drinking Water Quality

The only drinking water quality assurance that LEED requires is compliance with federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards. Yet these standards are widely recognized to allow human exposure to hazardous chemicals above “maximum contamination limits” set to protect human health.

In addition, the SDWA standards do not apply to wells that provide water to fewer than 15 households, as these require no water testing, leaving nearly 40 million people with no legal protection. Similarly, pesticides may be used within buildings and on grounds, with no regard for groundwater contamination.

LEED Neglects Workers’ Occupational Risks

LEED neglects to address the occupational chemical risks faced by workers who manufacture building products, cleaning products and furnishings.

The Central Problem: Federal Failure to Test and Regulate

Hazardous chemicals have become components of LEED-certified indoor environments primarily due to the failures of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and EPA’s neglect of the problem. Congress has provided EPA with limited authority to require testing of likely hazardous chemicals in building products.

Among nearly 80,000 chemicals in commerce, EPA has required toxicity testing of only 200 in nearly 25 years since TSCA was passed. These test results led EPA to ban or phase out only five chemicals. The overwhelming majority of chemicals in the built environment remain untested individually or as chemical mixtures that are routinely released to indoor environments.

Thus new products may incorporate tens of thousands of untested chemicals with no government oversight. This absence of regulation contrasts sharply with more stringent federal statutes that govern pesticides, industrial emissions to outdoor environments, pharmaceuticals and food. Since TSCA places the burden of proof of hazard on EPA before it may regulate, nearly all chemicals in building materials have escaped federal testing and regulation.

LEED Credit System—Something For All, Guarantees for None

LEED provides credits in many categories unrelated to human health. In establishing such a diverse set of criteria—energy, materials and resources, site reuse, and so forth—each category accounts for a relatively small percentage of the total credit award. The design of the existing credit system provides opportunities for awards in many different categories. The outcome is that low performance, or omissions in one or more categories, can result in even the most prestigious certification level.

Go Green or Go Home

I was recently sent a link to a McGraw Hill Construction study on the future of Green Building. At $250 I will pass but the info is not something worth passing on for those interested in commercial "green" development.

The report, "Green Outlook 2011: Green Trends Driving Growth," found that green building represented 25 percent of all new construction activity in 2010 and that the value of green building construction starts was up 50 percent from 2008 to 2010 — from $42 billion to $55 billion-$71 billion.

And the growth spurt isn't over. According to projections, by 2015, the size of the green building market is expected to grow to $135 billion.

The rate of growth in green building has been particularly impressive in the nonresidential sector. One-third of all new nonresidential construction is green. And in five years, nonresidential green building activity is expected to triple, which will contribute anywhere from 120-145 billion, a 40+% share in the market.

The decision to develop green properties are fueled by the lower operating costs (HVAC, lighting, water), higher building values, and an increase in return on investment.

But also contributing to this is an increase in local and federal government regulations and incentives (which may be at risk with current political attitudes towards well "green" or anything Obama is keen on)

As of September 2010, green building legislation and initiatives were present in 12 federal agencies and 33 states, and at the local level, government initiatives have increased at an aggressive pace — from 156 localities nationwide in 2008 to 384 localities in 2010.

This should also be extended to include multi family housing developments as we know from the current mortgage crisis there will be an increasing need for quality and affordable green rental units.

And if this trend is to continue the encouragement by local developers, builders, companies must be done in a move away from partisan politics to a more sustainable type of politics which is green neither red nor blue in logo.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Green Clock Ticks

There are still a few more weeks before Federal Energy Tax Credits expire.

If you are considering making any energy improvements to the home you must start the process prior to years end as the credits expire on 12/31/10.

I doubt in our current "climate" these will be renewed. As a result if you are debating upgrading your heating system, appliances, windows, doors, etc you need to make a decision where the money would best be spent and ultimately utilized. Energy will NOT remain affordable for long. With cities and their subsequent services, utilities included, expect prices to rise.

A review as follows:

Home Energy Efficiency Improvement Tax Credit:

This credit provides a 30% rebate for existing homes only up to $1,500. As a result, it does not apply to new construction or home purchases. However, for those who may be completing a full gut rehab, you may qualify for this credit, and you can model the energy savings by plugging your home information into the energy savings calculator provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Please note that the Home Energy Efficiency Improvement Tax Credit is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2010.

Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit:

This credit is quite extensive. It provides a 30% credit for installation of renewable energy systems (wind, solar and fuel cell) in addition to geothermal HVAC systems. The price for geothermal HVAC has decreased significantly in recent years. This tax incentive of 30% significantly lowers the return on investment (ROI) for installing a geothermal HVAC system when compared to a typical system. Recent comparisons demonstrate an ROI of 6-10 years.

I find the Energy Star website to be the best resource for understanding what is available from these tax credits, and I recommend you read the complete descriptions there.

State and Local Incentives

Opportunities: Tax incentives, utility rebates, grants, loans, net metering availability.

This step can be crucial in identifying significant incentives, but it has to be thoroughly reviewed early in the process for many of the programs. One point of note is that the requirements are stringent and must be adhered to as you are moving through the construction process. At the end of the day, it is expected that you have to work to get free money. I find the most comprehensive site for finding these

incentives is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Well the Rich Have a LOT to be Thankful for..

Today the front page of the New York Times has an article on how good times are back on Wall Street. The trickle down Economic policy is great if you are an Auction company, a Real Estate Agent in the Hampton's, an exclusive Restaurant or luxury retailer.

While bonuses are down they are not stopping the rich from having a great time. Neiman Marcus in 2 minutes sold hundreds of custom Camaro's and Tiffany is showing record sales on high end items.

Meanwhile Corporate profits are up over 1.6 Trillion dollars a record in over 60 years. Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus for the rich.

this morning also had an article on how Barry Diller, IFC company, is bypassing wage increases and bonuses while well Barry Diller isn't shorting himself any luxury perk needed to accommodate his lifestyle. The rich are different.

I have no comment but I have to wonder if anyone really sees the blatant disregard of the current economic situation for millions of Americans who are struggling with no work, work that has cut pay and benefits and work that is increasingly off the clock and extra that goes uncompensated. No Lil Kim party for us I guess...

Wallets Out, Wall St. Dares to Indulge

Exuberance made a comeback this year at Josh Koplewicz’s annual Halloween party. More than 1,000 people packed into a 6,000-square-foot space at the Good Units night club in Manhattan, a substantially larger crowd than in the last several years.

The open bar was sponsored by Russian Standard vodka, and Mr. Koplewicz, an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs, was able to snag a big headliner: the hip-hop star Lil’ Kim, who performed dressed in a black cat costume.

The scene was more extravagant in September, at a 50th birthday party in Hong Kong for Brian Brille, the head of Bank of America Asia Pacific. Mr. Brille, who is well known on the New York social scene, wore a gray Hugh Hefner-esque jacket. Women dressed like Playmates, with feather boas and satin ears, danced behind a pink silk screen.

Two years after the onset of the financial crisis, the stock market is recovering and Wall Street’s moneyed elite are breathing easier again. And this means in some cases they are spending again — at times cautiously, but sometimes with a familiar swagger.

It’s true that firms scaled back the corporate excesses, like fancy retreats and private jets, for which they were vilified as a brutal recession gripped the country. Many of those constraints remain in place, like flying commercial on business trips, or more limited private car service for employees.

But when it comes to personal indulgences, there are signs that the wallets are beginning to open up. Traders and executives say that jobs seem much more secure. Businesses whose fortunes ebb and flow with the financial markets are thriving again.

“Wall Street is back spending as much if not more than before,” said the New York dermatologic surgeon Dr. Francesca J. Fusco, whose business is booming again after a difficult few years.

Christie’s auction house says investors from the financial world who fell out of the bidding market during the 2008 credit crisis are “pouring” back in.

Porter House restaurantMarcus Yam for The New York TimesMichael Lomonaco, left, the head chef at the Porter House restaurant in Manhattan.

Expensive restaurants report a pickup in bookings. At the Porter House restaurant in the Time Warner Center across from Central Park, the head chef, Michael Lomonaco, says business is up about 10 percent over a year ago and “people are starting to shake off what happened.” The restaurant is a favorite of A-list Wall Street executives, including Goldman Sachs’s chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein.

Real estate agents say Wall Street executives have already begun lining up rentals in the Hamptons for next summer. Dolly Lenz of Prudential Douglas Elliman said the bidding this year was “hotter and heavier” than previous years. “There is a passion now in the market I haven’t seen in a while,” she said.

She said her clients, almost exclusively from Wall Street, were afraid to lose out. Just recently, Ms. Lenz said, she had three people bidding more than $400,000 for a summer rental in Southampton.

Compensation on Wall Street this year will not be much higher than 2009, and may even be lower. So the change in attitude appears more a matter of confidence and security than income.

“The mood is absolutely better, much better than even a year ago,” said David M. Gildea, a health care trader at the Wall Street firm Cowen & Company. Mr. Gildea was a trader at Bear Stearns before it was sold to JPMorgan Chase at a fire-sale price. He then moved to another big firm, which went through a similar near-death experience.

In 2008, even on a good trading day, he said, he and other traders were reluctant to even go out for a drink after work, uncertain if they were going to keep their jobs.

Now, Mr. Gildea said, people are stepping out more, and firms like Cowen are more optimistic about the future. “Are we back to where we were? Absolutely not,” he said. “Many people in our industry have learned to live more responsibly, but there is a definite buzz on the Street that hasn’t been there in some time.”

J.T. Cacciabaudo, head of equity trading and sales trading at the regional brokerage firm Sterne Agee agrees, saying while there is some concern in the market about the fourth quarter and how it will end, optimism about the longer term “has come back” and firms like his are in growth mode.

“Going into the third quarter, there was chatter about layoffs and most of that didn’t come to fruition because firms seem more optimistic about 2011 than the past two years,” he said.

This despite the fact that bonuses on Wall Street are not likely to be up much from last year, though they will still be strong. Over all, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have set aside $89.54 billion this year to pay employees, 2.8 percent less than a year ago, according to data from Nomura.

Total revenue for the five firms, meanwhile, has fallen about 4 percent this year. A study by the influential compensation expert Alan Johnson says broadly that bonuses will be up 5 percent this year across all financial services companies, with employees in some businesses like asset management getting increases of 15 percent.

This is a far cry from 2007, when some firms on Wall Street set records for compensation payouts. That year Goldman Sachs set aside $20.19 billion in compensation and benefits; in 2008, it set aside just half of that amount, $10.93 billion for pay. In 2009, that number climbed to $16.19 billion.

In the years leading up to the credit crisis some executives became famous for their expenditures, like L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive of Tyco International, whose $6,000 shower curtain became a symbol of unnecessary extravagance.

Some of that excess remains. A Morgan Stanley trader recently tried to hire a dwarf for a bachelor party in Miami, asking the dwarf to meet him at the airport in a “Men in Black” style suit, according to e-mail exchanges. The trader, who wanted to handcuff the dwarf to the bachelor, was recently fired.

Dr. Francesca J. FuscoRuth Fremson/The New York TimesDr. Francesca J. Fusco, a dermatologic surgeon in New York, says her business is rebounding strongly.

Most expenditures, however, are for more mainstream indulgences. Marc B. Porter, a senior executive at Christie’s, says Wall Street workers for whom the auction market was recently seen as “out of range” are pouring back in. This resurgence of activity, he says, has followed the recovery of different economies, be it Hong Kong or the United States.

In recent months, Deborah Killoran, a client of Dr. Fusco’s, has been more willing to open the purse strings for cosmetic surgery. This month she is scheduled for an ulthera, a nonsurgical face-lift that costs $3,000 and upward.

Ms. Killoran, who runs a Brooklyn-based insurance company, says that over the last two years she cut her annual spending on cosmetic surgery in half, to about $3,000. She is now spending at pre-2008 levels. “I have to meet a lot of people, and this is part of investing in myself,” she said.

For a restaurant like Porter House, a pickup in business means a customer may spend an extra $8 for the Prime Cowboy Rib Steak rather than the Prime New York Strip Steak and eat out twice a month, instead of just once every four weeks. Mr. Lomonaco, the chef, says bookings for private rooms have increased. “At some point, firms want to reward their people, and they seem more willing to do so this year,” he said.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Equal Pay Equal Work

The Equal Pay Act went down in flames in last week's Senate vote. As well any legislation that passes through dysfunction junction so this was not a surprise. As I have written before women are not compensated on the same level as men and despite our increasing gains in attaining Education we are still paid approximately 81 cents to every dollar earned by men. (Hey we used to make 75-77 cents 13 years ago - we have come a long way baby!)

The Equal Pay act was a way of assuring that the compensation tables for women are set on par with men. That is pretty much I think a given and there is no reason for any woman to make less than her male counterparts for doing the same work. The issue is that women have "careerus interuptus" more than men which can cause great fluctuations in work history and salary.

When a woman takes leave for child birth or opts out of the workplace to be the primary caregiver, when women are often the sole breadwinners of a home it becomes a challenge to put in the non-interrupted time and devotion males of the same age/experience/education have. Its difficult when as a woman we still are the primary home keepers doing the bulk of the housework and child raising even when working full time. Although studies have shown that partners of similar education and background are better at dividing the home responsibilities and duties it still falls primarily on women. So our working day does not always end at 5. That can put a toll on taking on more responsibility or management, passing on promotions or opportunities that their male colleagues often receive.

I have said that this current economic meltdown has very large and significant issues when it comes to wages and benefits. The overall outcome is that all of us will find ourselves working for less and for longer if we are to make it in this country. The days of pensions, Social Security, Medicare and costs for Education and Health are so significant whatever work we end up doing we will not be seeing financial rewards as our parents did for similar work - regardless of gender.

I read in the American Prospect the article which I have placed below. I will let you decide if this is an issue as one I do think is relevant. Without legislation in place and protection by law women will once again see significant wage related issues be not a thing of the past but one of the present.

What Gender Gap?

Real-world discrimination -- particularly on pay -- isn't as obvious as we'd like it to be.

Monica Potts

The Paycheck Fairness Act died in the Senate last week despite widespread support. Fifty-eight senators voted for it, which, as frustrated progressives surely know, is not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. It passed the House of Representatives last year with a vote of 256 to 163, and a poll commissioned in July by the ACLU and a coalition supporting the bill found that 84 percent of registered voters supported a bill that would give "women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace."

But that's a phrasing few could disagree with. Republicans in the Senate said they voted against the bill because it would create frivolous lawsuits, without limits on damages, and force companies to report wage and employment data to the government. Neither of those is really true, but few things get conservative-leaning voters riled up more than lawsuits and government meddling. And while most Americans (and most of the world) support women entering the workplace, that support varies when we start to ask about who should get preference in troubled times, how the government should intervene, and what corrective action should be taken.

Real-world discrimination isn't as obvious as we'd like it to be: An employer will never say, "By the way, I'm paying all my female employees less." It's much more subtle and affects women from the start of their career, from the often internalized belief that women are naturally suited to traditionally low-paying careers like teaching rather than high-paying careers like finance, to the persistent belief that women are paid less because they're not solely devoted to climbing to the top of the career ladder.

A 2007 study by the American Association of University Women found that women were paid 5 percent less than men with equivalent jobs just one year out of school. Those differences compound: A woman who is paid less would have to get higher raises or better starting salaries at subsequent jobs to catch up with men. But raises and new salaries are anchored by previous earnings. It might be difficult for individual actors to see how their life paths are affected by society as a whole, and women themselves do not always recognize individual injustices for what they are -- systemic discrimination. That's the hard part about dealing with discrimination in America: We have a skewed idea of what it is, and many women, struggling or not, do not even know when they are a victim.

Conservative arguments against policies that would enforce equal pay build upon the worst of those misperceptions: the idea that the playing field is already equalized for women -- women just haven't taken advantage of it. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's director of communications, Brad Peck, wrote a blog post on the organization's website taking issue with the idea that the gender-equality wars of today are as important as those of the past. "Suffragettes were fighting to give women equality of choice; those fighting for 'full equality' are trying to actually legislate away choice." The pay gap is the result of personal decisions, Peck said, so instead of supporting legislation, he argues for a personal-responsibility approach encouraging women to choose better careers and better life partners. That the work-life balance falls on women, he argued, is a cultural artifact, and correcting for it would require the state to treat people unequally. "Equality is a matter of ensuring equal access to opportunity, not ensuring identical outcomes in some areas depending on which opportunities you choose to take," he wrote.

Christina Hoff Sommers took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times in September to echo this point and to argue that employers aren't responsible for correcting for it: "It's not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination; it also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism." Both of these arguments flip the script: Correcting for actual discrimination would be unfair to employers, who are only responding to the market and individual merit. The hidden nature of the discrimination can make the solutions seem heavy-handed.

Of course, the "choices" women make are influenced by the same workplace discrimination they might have trouble recognizing. For example, in families in which men make more than women, it wouldn't make financial sense for men to leave their jobs to care for children. As Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress wrote in Slate in September, if women were consciously trading pay for benefits like workplace flexibility and more time off, we would expect to see women with children in jobs with better benefits. Instead, they're actually less likely than men to have these jobs.

Still, a full third of Americans don't believe we need to make any more policy changes to ensure that women are treated equally, which just goes to show how much resonance arguments like these have. Despite the facts, the bill's failure hasn't caused an uproar beyond the progressive sphere. Last week, I spoke to Deborah Vagins, legislative counsel for the ACLU. She said she didn't believe the conservative arguments against the Paycheck Fairness Act had won any support, but, when she spoke to people about her work, they were often surprised to hear that the problem of the gender pay gap hadn't been solved. Most people thought solutions were already in place. What's particularly ironic is that the Paycheck Fairness Act was poised to make this hidden discrimination visible, and easier to fight.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Green Earth? Climate Change?

I have long been alarmed at the pick your science plan you believe in for quite some time. You believe in medicine as it applies to science, space, technology and other advancements as it relates to Science. But when it comes to the Environment all bets are off.

This recent article in the NY Times regarding the state of Climate Change in our current Government is alarming on many counts - the decline in belief in facts and science and the fact that several of the incoming House members are Doctors. Yikes.

The Night of the Living Lawmakers
Green: Politics

The left-leaning Center for American Progress has published a survey identifying those it terms “climate zombies” — people who question the science of global warming — who will be stalking the halls of Congress come January.

The center’s Brad Johnson, assisted by the blogger R.L. Miller from the even-leftier Daily Kos, found that 55 percent of newly elected Republican members of the House and Senate question the science of human-caused global climate change. Thirty-five of the 46 Republicans who will serve in the new Senate have publicly raised doubts about the science; 125 of 240 Republicans who will be seated in the House have likewise expressed skepticism, the researchers found. (Click on this interactive map for details.)

They could not find a single newly elected Republican member of the House or Senate who has publicly accepted the scientific view that greenhouse gases are dangerously warming the planet.

Some of the new members believe the Earth is going through a natural warming cycle, or that observed temperature increases could be caused by sunspots. Others say that there is no scientific consensus on warming and therefore the United States should not take drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Still others say climate change is a fraud, a hoax or a scam perpetrated by scientific and economic elites in order to tax fossil fuels out of existence.

President Obama entered office promising to take swift and aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including a broad cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions and create a market in pollution permits. That effort foundered in the Senate, and Mr. Obama has acknowledged that the next Congress is unlikely to take it up again.

It is more likely that the new Congress will take steps to derail the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned program to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, starting with the biggest sources, including power plants, cement factories and oil refineries. Opposition to the E.P.A. program already has bipartisan support among lawmakers; the Center for American Progress’s report indicates that the number of foes will be significantly larger in the next Congress.

Thursday, November 18, 2010



HARMONY has its Broadcast premiere on NBC at 10pm/ET

on Friday, November 19th

Global alliance of over 200 NGOs brings movie’s themes to world-wide audience with mosaic:EARTH, online call-to-action

NEW YORK, NY – Today, TckTckTck announced an unprecedented alliance with Harmony: a new way of looking at our world, a film inspired by HRH The Prince of Wales, to bring the themes of the movie to a world-wide audience and to ignite action. Harmony offers a rare glimpse of The Prince of Wales, and a new and inspiring perspective on how the world can meet its most pressing challenges globally, locally and personally. This unique launch includes mosaic:EARTH, a cutting-edge collaborative media project that unites thousands of photos and video messages into one image of the Earth as seen from space, representing the first visualization of the global sustainability movement.

“The people we meet in Harmony are visionary thinkers and doers who are working to solve our greatest environmental and social problems in ways that make sense, and can impact the day-to-day lives of all of us,” said filmmakers Julie Bergman Sender and Stuart Sender. “Our collaboration with TckTckTck on the mosaic:EARTH call-to-action is a great example of how we can translate the message of the movie into real actions and results.”

TckTckTck, the most diverse international alliance of organizations working together to tackle climate change, is behind many groundbreaking initiatives that have mobilized millions of people around the world. mosaic:EARTH is the first unveiling of a collaborative online media tool created with OneWorld UK that uses “deep zoom” technology. Viewers can zoom in an out of the Earth with its thousands of “tiles” – photos and videos uploaded by individuals and organizations worldwide. Viewers can also add their own message and, for a limited time, there is a chance to win a custom Harmony iPad loaded with applications, The Prince of Wales’ book also called Harmony, and resources on sustainable living.

“We are seeing more and more leaders from the public, among investors, in businesses and some governments rising to the challenge of responding to climate change”, said Kelly Rigg, executive director of the Global Campaign for Climate Action that runs TckTckTck. “People all around the world are rolling up their sleeves and working to make a difference, much like the leaders portrayed in Harmony. Our mosaic:Earth is the place that brings all these people together on one massive call for global action.”

mosaic:EARTH is available as an easily-embeddable widget (www.mosaic-earth.com). The widget provides a link to view the Harmony trailer – which has its broadcast premiere on NBC at 10pm/ET on Friday, November 19th – and a link to TckTckTck’s “Partner Actions” page (http://live.tcktcktck.org/take-action/actions/ ), where individuals can learn about dozens of current activities and how they can get involved.

Note: Any links to external websites, including tcktcktck.org and its member groups, does not constitute endorsement by HRH The Prince of Wales

About Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World

Growing out of three decades of work by HRH The Prince of Wales to combat climate change and find innovative solutions to the global environmental crisis, Harmony is an urgent, accessible and practical call to action. It offers the audience a rare glimpse of The Prince of Wales, and a new and inspiring perspective on how the world can meet the challenges of climate change globally, locally and personally.
Harmony is narrated by Prince Charles, and is produced and directed by the award-winning filmmakers, Julie Bergman Sender and Stuart Sender. The production is from Balcony Films and Harmony Film, LLC. Harmony has its broadcast premiere at 10 PM/ET on Friday, November 19th on NBC. For more information, please visit www.theharmonymovie.com.

About the global TckTckTck campaign

TckTckTck is an unprecedented global alliance, representing millions of people from all walks of life who are united by a desire to see strong multilateral action on climate change. The alliance is made up of wide range of nonprofit organizations, leading environmental, development, and faith-based NGO's, youth groups, trade unions and individuals, and is calling for a fair, ambitious and binding UN climate agreement. For more information please go to www.tcktcktck.org

Watch the trailer on Youtube:

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Climate of Change

Change isn't easy. In fact its hard but only if its not something you do willingly.

We as a people have become increasingly frustrated with our Government so a new wind blew and change is now coming to Washington. If anything change is just a word there as its business as usual. More obstruction, more misinformation and little accomplishments. But when you are in Washington that is the norm.

At home finding one in the midst of change is a challenge when its forced upon you. Being a loss of a job, an illness, a move. those are changes that make anyone feel on edge.

The new Congress will likely do nothing about our Environmental issues. And as I have written before I say whether you believe in Climate Change or not you must believe in pollution. Whatever you think you saw with your eyes the massive destruction that befell the Gulf Coast this spring. The long term repercussions are yet to be felt.

Our air is dirtier, our water unclean and our lives are full of toxins. We can only do so much to avoid and circumvent but its not easy. When given the choice we try to do the best with what we got.

Energy, the use of renewables must be considered part of that equation. As long as we rely on fossil fuels the damage is twofold. To the Environment and to our lives. We cannot ignore the fact that yes it will cost more but what is the value of a life. I recently read that a community has rejected the use of Wind Power as it raised their bills .02 per kwh. Another has rejected the use of Smart Meters as they accurately and therefore effectively measure and bill for the real use of power. Shocking. Yes I know.

But without accepting the truth behind the matter you will end up paying more a lot more in utilities in the near future. The cost of transitioning to renewables will also be a lot more. This is not win win.

Change behavior. Change Attitude but mostly accept the fact that Change begins with us. I cannot expect everyone get behind the movement but you can look to yourselves and the way you use energy and what simple things you can do to reduce or change your use.

Some ideas:

Doing Laundry at off peak times. I do mine at the middle of the night.
Lights on timers. Are the timer adjusted for the switch for DST to Standard?
Heat Sensors/Heat Timers
Better task lighting.
Washing dishes at later times
Checking heating filters
Switching fans rotation

By simple changes in those small acts and deeds you may find yourself with slightly less energy use and reduced bills. And yes encourage the use of renewables even for that two cents. It will be better now than later.

Book Deals For The Green In You

As the Holiday season approaches and in light of the Eco Libris Campaign, giving books is a great way to spread the message, build knowledge and well just something to keep on a coffee table and peruse when one desires.

On that note Black Dog Publishing is making a great offer right now on many of their book titles.

I’m delighted to present to you Black Dog’s Christmas 40% discount on a selection of our gardening and environmental books.

The offer is open until 31st December 2010.

Black Dog Publishing specialises in beautifully illustrated books that represent a fresh, eclectic take on contemporary culture. The books featured in this offer include the recently released Recycle: The Essential Guide, a basic introduction to the how’s, what’s, when’s and where’s of recycling, and the hugely popular Kids in the Garden: Growing Plants for Food and Fun - an accessible guide for children on how to grow and tend to the garden, packed with vibrant and fun ideas introducing children to green-fingered activities.

To take advantage of the 40% discount, simply email me at jess@blackdogonline.com with the title(s) of interest and your delivery address and I will place the order for you.

Please just shout if you have any queries – I’d be happy to help.

You can find the catalog at Black Dog Publishing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Its time once again for the annual
Eco-Libris Campaign.

As blogged before this event joins bloggers, readers and greenies in an attempt to encourage "Sustainable Reading."

Launched in 2009 by Eco-Libris, this campaign is aiming to promote “green” books by reviewing 200 books printed on recycled paper or FSC-certified paper. Choosing recycled and FSC certified paper helps protect the world’s forests, species and climate. Deforestation accounts for an estimated 20% of global carbon emissions, more than the emissions from the transportation, aviation and IT industries combined. By turning a spotlight on books printed using environmental paper, we want to raise the awareness of book buyers to this issue and encourage them to take it into consideration when purchasing books.

Participating publishers include among others Penguin Group, Scholastic, Barefoot Books, McClelland & Stewart, Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, Sterling Publishing, DK Publishing, Harvard Business Press, Island Press, North Atlantic Books, McGraw-Hill, ABRAMS and Picador.

I am still a hold out on books preferring the tangible feel of hard or soft cover vs the e-book variety but however you choose to read just read!

The book I selected was Green Lighting. How Energy Efficient Lighting can Save You Energy and Money and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, by Brian Clark Howard, William J. Brinsky and Seth Leitman.

Okay long title, thin book, big on info and small on price. Amazon has it available both in paperback or Kindle at the low price of 9.99. That is a great deal for a great book.

The book details the advantages and intention of why one should re-examine your lighting choices. From CFL lightbulbs to LED's they give you full explanations on the advantages and disadvantages of each.

But they also go into details illustrating different types of lighting, lamp and lighting choices and design strategies. On that note holiday times are coming and its time to look at the kind of lighting you use to decorate the home.

They also discuss the types of fixtures and controls available to help use, monitor and reduce your lighting use. A simple dimmer switch can save significant energy and is relatively easy and inexpensive to install.

The most useful chapter is Lighting Best Practices and Daylighting. They illustrate ways to maximize both indoor and outdoor lighting uses and current alternatives that can be used to reduce energy use. The most common is the solar outdoor lights. Perhaps the most affordable and easy option but also motion lights or timers that can be adjusted for maximum use when needed.

Thinking about lighting. We don't. We turn it on when needed and often leave it on even when not. Looking at the design of lighting, the type of lighting in your home can make significant impact on your energy bills. Do you really need that overhead or can a table/floor lamp do? Rather than canned lights track lights may be more than adequate as they offer directional lighting where needed most.

Lighting its something we take advantage of and its a terrible thing to waste.

And while at it thank the great people of Eco-Libris for bringing all good things about books and publishing green to light.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Are You the Future Ty Pennington?

I just received notice from a casting agent informing me of another show on the horizon with a focus on men or women of the trades.

They are looking for Carpenters, handymen who are skilled in DIY to host and partner for a new show.

Good luck and have fun!


Do you think your business could be a reality show?
Do people constantly remark, YOU should be on TV!

We want to hear from you.

Lion TV (Cash Cab, History Detectives) and a top ten US cable network are looking for a fun, out-going, opinionated multi-generational pair to HOST a new “old school vs new school” themed competition reality series.

Think father/son, uncle/nephew or boss/employee.

Are you naturally competitive and think the old or new schoolers are too smart for their own good?

Prior on-camera experience not required – carpentry, building, engineering, mechanical, problem-solving skills a plus. This show involves a lot of good old American ingenuity

Please email ASAP to barbarabarnacasting@gmail.com and be sure to include the following:

 full name of you and your old/new school partner
 contact information
 RECENT photo of you and your old/new school partner
 Name & description of your business – have fun! be descriptive!
 Why should we choose you?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Waste Not Want Not

From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can

As a single person who attends local farmer's markets for my food I try to go prepared. I look to see what they have and how I can incorporate that in my weekly menu planning. I think what is in season, what goes with what I have in the pantry and think about possible leftovers.

It takes time for even me to plan a menu for just myself. Its tough to cook on days when I am working all day in a school, going to night school and trying to somehow also stay on top of current business for my real passion - green build.

In a day I try to make a workout and yoga class and until Emma passed I had a dog to care for. I can't imagine how difficult it is if you have a family and children.

But what is more disturbing is our eating trends.. fast foods and poor diets due to the economy. The rise in poverty has put nutritious food out of reach for many. Then we have this fad where parents are convinced children won't eat anything "good" for them and this silly movement to hide nutrients in peanut butter or add flavored dips to make them eat veggies that are high in fat and calories.

As a child we had a vegetable garden right in our yard. I loved picking them and eating them warm from the dirt. I loved eating veggies raw or cooking them in different combinations to see what tasted great. Mashed, boiled, baked it didn't matter. We loved them in our house it was what was available that was our ONLY choice.

As a result of all the issues with food we waste more food than any other nation. Its waste we cannot afford to continue. Even I have a small under the counter compost can and here in Seattle we have a utility that has provided compost as part of our waste management program. Whether you have this available or not you can do simple things to reduce waste of food.

This was in the New York times discussing the problems surrounding this issue. Ask yourself what did you throw out lately and did you have to?


Study: US Food Waste Is a Huge Energy Drain
Posted on Sunday, October 3, 2010

(Oct. 2) — Forget drafty windows and aging cars — a new study says one of the biggest wastes of energy in America could be the food in your garbage can.

Every rotten tomato or unwanted chicken wing represents wasted energy, since the calories in the food are never consumed. And the energy that went into growing the food, processing it, packaging it and transporting it to the consumer is also wasted.

Each year, American food waste represents the energy equivalent of 350 million barrels of oil, according to new research from the University of Texas.

That’s enough to power the whole country for a week — just sitting in the trash can rotting.

“As a nation we’re grappling with energy issues,” Michael Webber, associate director of the university’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy, told AOL News. “A lot more energy goes into food than people realize.”

This isn’t small potatoes on a global level either. Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, with the U.S. agricultural sector representing about 7 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, even before taking into account the energy used to process and transport the food.

So every time you order more french fries than you can eat, you’re contributing to a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change.

“It’s a significant amount of energy,” Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland,” a book on food waste, told AOL News. “It’s not America’s most pressing environmental problem, but I think it’s the easiest one to solve.”

Part of the problem is people’s attitude toward food. Americans waste an eye-popping 27 percent of their food, Webber’s study says. Almost one-third of the country’s oils, fats, grains and dairy products end up in the garbage.

These figures may even underestimate the problem. For his study, Webber used statistics on food waste from a Department of Agriculture study in the 1990s.

A study by the National Institutes of Health, which measured food waste by calories, put the portion of food that goes uneaten at about 40 percent as of 2005.

“If you were to ship all of our food waste produced in one day to one central location, there’d be enough to fill the Rose Bowl,

“We have a cheap food policy in America,” Webber said. “When things are cheap, people don’t care so much about wasting it.”

Stuart Bradford

How much food does your family waste?

A lot, if you are typical. By most estimates, a quarter to half of all food produced in the United States goes uneaten — left in fields, spoiled in transport, thrown out at the grocery store, scraped into the garbage or forgotten until it spoils.

A study in Tompkins County, N.Y., showed that 40 percent of food waste occurred in the home. Another study, by the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, found that 93 percent of respondents acknowledged buying foods they never used.

And worries about food safety prompt many of us to throw away perfectly good food. In a study at Oregon State University, consumers were shown three samples of iceberg lettuce, two of them with varying degrees of light brown on the edges and at the base. Although all three were edible, and the brown edges easily cut away, 40 percent of respondents said they would serve only the pristine lettuce.

In his new book “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food” (Da Capo Press), Jonathan Bloom makes the case that curbing food waste isn’t just about cleaning your plate.

“The bad news is that we’re extremely wasteful,” Mr. Bloom said in an interview. “The positive side of it is that we have a real role to play here, and we can effect change. If we all reduce food waste in our homes, we’ll have a significant impact.”

Why should we care about food waste? For starters, it’s expensive. Citing various studies, including one at the University of Arizona called the Garbage Project that tracked home food waste for three decades, Mr. Bloom estimates that as much as 25 percent of the food we bring into our homes is wasted. So a family of four that spends $175 a week on groceries squanders more than $40 worth of food each week and $2,275 a year.

And from a health standpoint, allowing fresh fruits, vegetables and meats to spoil in our refrigerators increases the likelihood that we will turn to less healthful processed foods or restaurant meals. Wasted food also takes an environmental toll. Food scraps make up about 19 percent of the waste dumped in landfills, where it ends up rotting and producing methane, a greenhouse gas.

A major culprit, Mr. Bloom says, is refrigerator clutter. Fresh foods and leftovers languish on crowded shelves and eventually go bad. Mr. Bloom tells the story of discovering basil, mint and a red onion hiding in the fridge of a friend who had just bought all three, forgetting he already had them.

“It gets frustrating when you forget about something and discover it two weeks later,” Mr. Bloom said. “So many people these days have these massive refrigerators, and there is this sense that we need to keep them well stocked. But there’s no way you can eat all that food before it goes bad.”

Then there are chilling and food-storage problems. The ideal refrigerator temperature is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer should be zero degrees, says Mark Connelly, deputy technical director for Consumer Reports, which recently conducted extensive testing on a variety of refrigerators. The magazine found that most but not all newer models had good temperature control, although models with digital temperature settings typically were the best.

Vegetables keep best in crisper drawers with separate humidity controls.

If food seems to be spoiling quickly in your refrigerator, check to make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s care instructions. Look behind the fridge to see if coils have become caked with dust, dirt or pet hair, which can interfere with performance.

“One of the pieces of advice we give is to go to a hardware store and buy a relatively inexpensive thermometer,” Mr. Connelly said. “Put it in the refrigerator to check the temperature to make sure it’s cold enough.”

There’s an even easier way: check the ice cream. If it feels soft, that means the temperature is at least 8 degrees Fahrenheit and you need to lower the setting. And if you’re investing in a new model, don’t just think about space and style, but focus on the refrigerator that has the best sight lines, so you can see what you’re storing. Bottom-freezer units put fresh foods at eye level, lowering the chance that they will be forgotten and left to spoil.

Mr. Bloom also suggests “making friends with your freezer,” using it to store fresh foods that would otherwise spoil before you have time to eat them.

Or invest in special produce containers with top vents and bottom strainers to keep food fresh. Buy whole heads of lettuce, which stay fresher longer, or add a paper towel to the bottom of bagged lettuce and vegetables to absorb liquids. Finally, plan out meals and create detailed shopping lists so you don’t buy more food than you can eat.

Don’t be afraid of brown spots or mushy parts that can easily be cut away.

“Consumers want perfect foods,” said Shirley Van Garde, the now-retired co-author of the Oregon State study. “They have real difficulty trying to tell the difference in quality changes and safety spoilage. With lettuce, take off a couple of leaves, you can do some cutting and the rest of it is still usable.”

And if you do decide to throw away food, give it a second look, Mr. Bloom advises. “The common attitude is ‘when in doubt, throw it out,’” he said. “But I try to give the food the benefit of the doubt.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bye Bye American Dream

Many Pundits and Politicians alike have seized upon the decline of the Middle Class. As one who grew up firmly in its existence and now to see it fall away faster than a Greenland iceberg, I have spent many hours wondering what went wrong. I see friends and their businesses are gone, their savings depleted and their lives are now upside down in an economy that seems going nowhere fast with no one willing to make the hard decisions or choices.

As many people have and do I questioned every decision and mistake made. I have done deep seated analysis and continued to wonder exactly when this began and was there anything I could have done to stop the slide. The answer my friend is blowing in the wind and that wind blows the way of politics.

Yesterday Bob Herbert discusses a recent book analyzing the decline of the Middle Class. I am anxious to read it as I see exactly and agree wholeheartedly in its premise. There is no one party responsible they both are it is that simple. We have become a nation that ventures on Oligarchy or Plutocracy and our Government co-opted this tremendous failure.

Fast Track to Inequality
Published: November 1, 2010

The clearest explanation yet of the forces that converged over the past three decades or so to undermine the economic well-being of ordinary Americans is contained in the new book, “Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned
The authors, political scientists Jacob Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of the University of California, Berkeley, argue persuasively that the economic struggles of the middle and working classes in the U.S. since the late-1970s were not primarily the result of globalization and technological changes but rather a long series of policy changes in government that overwhelmingly favored the very rich.

Those changes were the result of increasingly sophisticated, well-financed and well-organized efforts by the corporate and financial sectors to tilt government policies in their favor, and thus in favor of the very wealthy. From tax laws to deregulation to corporate governance to safety net issues, government action was deliberately shaped to allow those who were already very wealthy to amass an ever increasing share of the nation’s economic benefits.

“Over the last generation,” the authors write, “more and more of the rewards of growth have gone to the rich and superrich. The rest of America, from the poor through the upper middle class, has fallen further and further behind.”

As if to underscore this theme, it was revealed last week (by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The New York Times), that the incomes of the very highest earners in the United States, a small group of individuals hauling in more than $50 million annually (sometimes much more), increased fivefold from 2008 to 2009, even as the nation was being rocked by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Last year was a terrific year for those at the very top. Professors Hacker and Pierson note in their book that investors and executives at the nation’s 38 largest companies earned a stunning total of $140 billion — a record. The investment firm Goldman Sachs paid bonuses to its employees that averaged nearly $600,000 per person, its best year since it was founded in 1869.

Something has gone seriously haywire in the distribution of the fruits of the American economy.

This unfortunate shift away from a long period of more widely shared prosperity unfolded steadily, year after year since the late-’70s, whether Democrats or Republicans controlled the levers of power in Washington. “Winner-Take-All Politics” explores the vexing question of how this could have happened in a democracy in which — in theory, at least — the enormous number of voters who are not rich would serve as a check on policies that curtailed their own economic opportunities while at the same time supercharging the benefits of the runaway rich.

The answer becomes clearer when one recognizes, as the book stresses, that politics is largely about organized combat. It’s a form of warfare. “It’s a contest,” said Professor Pierson, “between those who are organized, who can really monitor what government is doing in a very complicated world and bring pressure effectively to bear on politicians. Voters in that kind of system are at a disadvantage when there aren’t reliable, organized groups representing them that have clout and can effectively communicate to them what is going on.”

The book describes an “organizational revolution” that took place over the past three decades in which big business mobilized on an enormous scale to become much more active in Washington, cultivating politicians in both parties and fighting fiercely to achieve shared political goals. This occurred at the same time that organized labor, the most effective force fighting on behalf of the middle class and other working Americans, was caught in a devastating spiral of decline.

Thus, the counterweight of labor to the ever-increasing political clout of big business was effectively lost.

“We’re not arguing that globalization and technological change don’t matter,” said Professor Hacker. “But they aren’t by any means a sufficient explanation for this massive change in the distribution of wealth and income in the U.S. Much more important are the ways in which government has shaped the economy over this period through deregulation, through changes in industrial relations policies affecting labor unions, through corporate governance policies that have allowed C.E.O.’s to basically set their own pay, and so on.”

This hyperconcentration of wealth and income, and the overwhelming political clout it has put into the hands of the monied interests, has drastically eroded the capacity of government to respond to the needs of the middle class and others of modest income.

Nothing better illustrates the enormous power that has accrued to this tiny sliver of the population than its continued ability to thrive and prosper despite the Great Recession that was largely the result of their winner-take-all policies, and that has had such a disastrous effect on so many other Americans.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Housing Futures

in the commodity market they use futures in which to buy and trade if the commodity price will go up or down. If you live in Beckistan you would be following the volatile gold market with your survival seeds as you prepare for Armageddon. The only thing with Armageddon is everything is destroyed so getting those gold bricks might be a problem, that and the world being destroyed and all.

Housing is a commodity and it is our future. The Mortgage Meltdown that led to the Economic Tsunami threw the housing market and all the related industries into total chaos. Its how I lost my business and what threw many of my friends, colleagues and former associates into unemployment or simply scrambling to survive.

Like any industry in the United States much of the problems and solutions rely upon effective lobbying; Changing rules and regulations that prohibit or encourage whatever is needed to enhance the business seeking "reform."

There is no question that the powerful NAHB, the Contractor's Associations and my other favorite the Real Estate Boards pushed for many of the programs that led to a lessening of mortgage requirements, building codes and tax changes that helped fuel the industry and in turn the bubble.

Well they are back! Despite the fact that home ownership is at an all time low the NAHB is touting a growth in the industry for 2011. Today in USA Today reports that we are the lowest number in home ownership in more than a decade. With vacant housing at close to 15%. If the time for rents to decline and variety to increase it would be now although ironically I am not seeing that.

With rents still at 2008 levels in many cities I would like to see that adjusted. As Jimmy McMillan, candidate for Governor said: "The Rents are Too Damn High" With current wages stagnating for some and for many when they do return to the workforce they are doing so at severely declined wages this issue will be the next one that Governments and municipalities must address. Public Housing already stretched to limits in some areas and many of them dilapidated to the point of non-repair we have another potential problem looming on the horizon.

For the NAHB to again think that all is rosy on the forefront it falls to the same canard: No taxes, No regulations. This is their belief..

Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives will also be heartening to the small business community, easing its concerns over taxation and regulatory policies emanating from Washington and producing a pick-up late in the year in business confidence indexes, he said

I don't know how this is possible with Unemployment reaching over 17 million, not including the underemployed, the self employed the 1099 contractors and part time workers we would have to add 100,000 jobs a month for the next decade to come close to pre 2005 levels - which is when most of the shedding began. So anyone who thinks that unemployment was not a problem is not looking at the real numbers.

Its easy to find an expert who will substantiate your way of thinking and if you don't want to think about facts and figures of real economists instead of those hired to color the glass rose then you are being very naive.

This problem is not going away soon. The devastation economically to wages, employment, 401k's, pensions, savings and housing values are not just resolved by cutting taxes for the rich and DE-regulating protections that serve only those with both access to money and power.

Its unfortunate in the zeal to believe we are all rich that the rich have any interest other than their own is the real problem and that is the one that needs to be resolved first.

Monday, November 1, 2010

For the Camper in You

While my idea of camping is a four star hotel and my idea of roughing it is one without 24 hour room service I know there are many greenies who do appreciate nature from more than a passing car window.

For those inclined I am referring Camping Gear Outlet. They have all the camping supplies you could need for an adventure into the wild.

Camping Gear Outlet prides itself on offering a wide variety of items at affordable options. They have camping tents that are dome, family size, to screen houses.

They offer a wide variety of accessories for the outdoors man or for someone who would like to be one but are not ready for a simple pocket knife or tarp to call it day. Check out their line of camping stoves and other cooking utensils and tools to make your experience more Top Chef than Man in Wilderness.

**This blog entry was brought to you by Camping Gear Outlet**